RESTLESS (Gus Van Sant, 2011)
Opposites attract. A young man who's lost the will to live enjoys crashing memorial services, for the sake of fleeting sympathy, or mockery or self-inflicting pain. A young woman, with only three months to live, embraces life at its fullest. Morbid, right? In the hands of a lesser director, maybe but acclaimed filmmaker Gus Van Sant paints his picture with such charm and sincerity that the subject of death and dying becomes bearable.
Achingly beautiful and poignant, RESTLESS is a simple story, told without embellishments, and devoid of any grand gestures or emotions. Absent are wrist-slitting dialogue about how shitty each of the characters' lives are, excessive back story, and unnecessary conflict, like parents/guardians in the way of young love and stuff like that. It's REMEMBER ME in a minimalist treatment, and without a contrived historical backdrop, and A WALK TO REMEMBER without the melodrama.
We get it. The girl is dying, but she fully understands her fate and instead of wallowing in self-pity, she focuses her energy on studying the complexity of nature and its elements, most especially birds. She says of all classifications of birds, she likes the water birds the most because they can go anywhere.
The boy is angry for the death of his parents, and later on because he cannot do anything to extend the life of the girl. So he makes up imaginary friends (like a dead Japanese Kamikaze pilot), crashes funerals, and when he meets the one person whose character and outlook in life mocks his shameful behavior, his guard is down. Suddenly he finds something to fight for.
For half the film Annabel (Mia Wasikowska) and Enoch (Henry Hopper) are kissing each other, which is tender and heartfelt. At one scene, they audio record how Annabel's death scene should ideally be, and in that scene the film's catharsis comes out- as Enoch questions the irrational nature of death, and how those of us that are left behind have to deal with all the painful memories.
Annabel and Enoch are restless souls- one fully aware of her impending demise and so she makes the most out of her remaining time, and the other trying to find meaning in the natural order of things- death and rebirth. As the story unfolds, we are able to carefully observe the characters develop in the brief moment that they share, and quite possibly empathize with their ordeal.
Sweet and observational, RESTLESS is a film that respects life and death as equals, and pays importance to people who we usually misunderstand at first glance, but that's because we do not understand the pain they have to go through. More importantly, it is a film about finding courage about that moment most of us fear the most.